Within the last several days, a coalition of African-American pastors initiated a public protest against the president of American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., urging him to disinvite Bishop Yvette Flunder from speaking at an upcoming ABC lecture series because she is a lesbian and married to a woman.
In a press release, they called her invitation to speak at ABC “irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical and certainly displeasing to God.” They’ve also raised objections to scheduled appearances by me and the Rev. Allan Boesak because we believe that gay and lesbian Americans deserve the same rights as everyone else, and we have taken public action to advance marriage equality.
I find this kind of moral hypocrisy and theological asymmetry detrimental to the people we are called to serve. The black community and the black family are suffering today, in part, because of the black church’s disregard for myriad systemic injustices. Many of our clergy have stood silent about efforts to disenfranchise voters of color and have shown indifference on matters of social morality: Where is the clergy-led movement in vocal opposition to poverty? When will church leaders mobilize their members in favor of banking reform, campaign-finance reform or increases in the minimum wage? Why can’t the kind of energy expended on the campaign against Bishop Flunder be put to use leading movements to end mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline or the war on drugs?
The reality is that because the black church is wasting time and energy denying gays and lesbians a basic civil right, it has less to offer people in their everyday struggles. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us: “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.”
When it comes to accepting and embracing our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, too many black pastors are quick to stand in forceful opposition, clinging to the erroneous assumption that same-gender love is blasphemy, while professing to protect family, the church and “a biblical worldview.”
But where are the campaigns against clergy who commit other “sins” believed to undermine marriage, family, the Bible and the church? I have never seen this level of moral outrage against clergy who commit adultery, who have been divorced or who have been remarried multiple times. I have yet to see a movement of clergy—under the auspices of protecting marriage, family and “a biblical worldview”—seeking to deny equal treatment under the law to adulterers, fornicators, drunkards or those who have been divorced.
This kind of selective outrage undermines the ability of clergy leaders to minister with integrity and honesty.
My unapologetic support for LGBT Christians is not despite my view of Scripture but because of it. My careful and close reading of the Old Testament and the New Testament in their original languages leads me, as a believer and a Bible scholar, to very different conclusions about what those Scriptures commonly used to condemn gays and lesbians are actually referencing. But regardless of one’s view of Scripture, the issue of marriage equality is decidedly a matter of civil law. “Separation of church and state” is a deeply held tenet of Baptist heritage and belief, and the public-policy debate about “same-sex marriage” is about the right of LGBT couples to receive a civil marriage license issued by the state, not religious sanction.
In a free, pluralistic society, we don’t want people to deny fellow Americans equal treatment under the law based on their religious beliefs. In the past, we’ve seen how dangerous this is, and it would be a very dangerous precedent for the world in which we live today. It would take this country back to a time when discrimination was codified as a matter of law, but this time under the guise of religion.
Our communities are impacted at least as much by what is taking place in corporate boardrooms as they are by what is happening in people’s bedrooms. We suffer today because our notions of morality and theology have been restricted to notions of personal piety and individual salvation. The witness of Scripture and the legacy of the black church suggest that the best of our faith is grounded in the conviction that morality is as much corporate in nature as it is private, and seeks to address systemic sin and social injustice in the world.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.